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Tips for Traveling With Kids

May 17, 2010 · 78 comments

in From the Mailbag, Misc Tips, Personal Finance, Travel

This post is From the Mailbag…

A reader wrote asking about how to travel economically with kids.  One issue in particular is that they have five people in their family, and many hotel rooms have a four person limit.  This is especially true when staying at water parks, as those hotels often require you stay in a suite if you have more than four people in your party.  In addition, the rate for standard rooms usually only includes four water-park passes.

Had to drive through Snowy Georgia to get to Florida this year

Well my friend, I have the exact same situation, as I also have three children. Therefore, I am going to provide everything I know about traveling with kids.  This post will generally cover families with children that no longer need playpens/cribs.   (Traveling with babies is a whole other story…)

First of all, if I am making the hotel reservation on the internet and I am required to specify the number of children in my party, I instead call to make my reservation.  (For some reason, they never ask how many in are my party when I call.)   If the rate specified on the internet is cheaper than what they tell me on the phone, I demand the internet rate.   Regarding the water park limit on 4 wristbands, I just buy one more wristband when I am heading into the water park.  It could always be for little cousin Sammy that lives nearby and is visiting for the day.

Regarding tips to make the trip more pleasant and economical, I recommend the following:

  1. When deciding on where to go, I always consults Tripadvisor.com first.   I cannot count how many ways Tripadvisor.com has helped us in our vacation planning, from picking the right hotel to asking for a specific room.  If you would like to read a post I wrote about the benefits of Tripadvisor, click here.
  2. Consider all types of accommodations when planning your trip.  For instance, I never stay at Disney Resorts when traveling to Disney World.   I can stay in a 2 or 3 bedroom condominium at World Quest Resort for much cheaper than I can at one of the Disney properties, and at a much cheaper price.   Plus, condos have kitchens and usually laundry facilities.  Its so much cheaper if you can eat some meals in.  Plus, who doesn’t love having a full-size refrigerator at their disposal?
  3. If traveling by car, always stock a cooler and bring it along.  One thing I have found that works well is to freeze water bottles ahead of time to use as ‘ice’ for the way to the destination.  Then as they defrost, you can drink them, and they don’t cause a giant, watery mess in the cooler like loose ice does.   If your kids are like mine, they view every gas station stop as a way to get snacks.  With a filled cooler and plenty of other snacks readily available, my kids know better than to even ask for treats when we stop anymore.  Plus, you can pack much healthier options than what McDonalds or the convenience store can provide.  Snacks I like to pack are:  Rotisserie chicken (already pulled from the bone), string cheese, yogurt, grapes, melon,  cucumbers, mandarin oranges, bananas, kiwis (my kids like to cut off the top and eat the inside with a spoon), crackers, banana bread, etc.  Regarding fruit, it works best to pack fruit that can be washed ahead of time and will hold up well in storage.  That is why I don’t pack strawberries much unless we are going to eat them right away.
  4. Pack a smaller, collapsible cooler that can be used once you arrive at your destination.  It is much cheaper to pack your own drinks/snacks in a cooler than to buy them at the beach, or wherever you are headed.
  5. Books on tape/CD can be a fantastic way to pass the time on a long trip.  Harry Potter has gotten us through many hours of driving.  The library is a great resource for books on tape/CD.    My kids also like to play a game they made up called ‘one minute sketch’.  I pick what they are supposed to draw and they have one minute to draw it.  They then compare their drawings and crack up.  Therefore, I always have pencils and paper in the car.
  6. Now that my kids are getting older and bigger, quite often a small hotel room can be quite cramped.  We used to throw all 3 kids into a bed, but that doesn’t work well anymore. The single, most important tip I can provide for those with more than 2 kids is to invest in a decent air mattress to take on these trips.   My kids actually want to sleep on the air mattress, so it works out perfect.   Eddie Bauer makes a great, comfortable air mattress that has a battery operated air pump, so it is great for camping too.   Sometimes you might have to move a desk out of the way to make the air mattress fit, but we have done this countless times. During the day, we just prop the mattress up against a wall and it is out of the way.
  7. Bring a lot of change!  Having all those quarters is great for toll roads and possibly laundry facilities.
  8. Make sure the first aid kit is stocked with Tylenol, Ibuprofen, bandages, tweezers, and alcohol wipes before you leave.
  9. When traveling by plane, see if each person can fit their clothes into their own carry-on bag.   This way, you never lose luggage, and you are not charged for checking in bags.  Often, this tip requires you stay in accommodations that have laundry facilities, depending on the length of your trip.  Also, pack gum and suckers for the kids for take-off and landing to keep their ears clear.  If you are flying with a baby, it is great if you can give them a bottle or pacifier during take-off and landing.

My last suggestion is, get the kids involved in the up-front planning as much as possible.  The kids can pick out what they want to bring and pack it themselves.   My children actually do most the food prep and packing, and it makes a huge difference in my sanity level.    Delegate as much as you can and you will be much happier.

Readers, what other suggestions do you have?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff May 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Remind the teenagers to bring their CD player/MP3 Player/etc…believe me, it’s better for everyone.

If you ever have to stop at a hotel without a reservation, don’t take everyone in to register (so they won’t see the extra kid).

This is exactly how my family of 5 travelled while I was growing up. The snack cooler was VERY important. If you ever travel in the mountains or arounds lots of curves, we also packed white bread or crackers for anybody with car sickness to nibble (that was me…).

Great post!


Kris May 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Budget – thanks for the extra tips. I always have my oldest child scurry away from the registration desk at check in too!

Thanks for commenting!


Mike - Saving Money Today May 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm

BFS, that’s a great idea about leaving the kids in the car while checking in. We’re now a family of 5 but haven’t taken any vacations yet (youngest is just 7 months)


Dianna May 17, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Aha! Now I know all of your travel tips! Thanks!!!


Kris May 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Yes you now know all you need to know when traveling. Now, plan your trip!


Joe Plemon May 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

We have four kids, all now grown, but your post brought back many memories. We used to pack all six of us into a hotel room, using sleeping bags on the floor. The most expensive item when traveling can be eating in restaurants, so we made sure the hotel had a quality complimentary breakfast. And yes, we packed the cooler too. I like the idea of freezing water bottles. We would fill large zip locks with ice at the hotel. Some of our best family vacations involved renting a beach house for a week because we would cook most of the meals ourselves, with the kids taking turns helping.

To your other readers: follow the tips on this post. They work!


Kris May 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm

That’s a good point about complimentary breakfast. I also try my best to find hotels with complimentary breakfast, especially if they don’t have a fridge. Thanks for the comment!!


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff May 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Good point! Even though it’s now just me and hubby, we still look for hotels with complimentary breakfasts. It’s just nice to know that one meal is taken care of. 🙂


Money Reasons May 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm

I’m going to have to try that kiwis trick!!!

I was thinking about buying an air mattress (for camping), so thanks for the info there!

My sister used tripadvisor.com, and now since you recommend it too, I’m also going to use it!

I’m a little on the reckless side, Instead of starting to drive at the wee AM morning hours, I’d leave at 8:00pm (or 9:00pm) and drive thru the night while the kids and wife sleep through most of the driving portion. A plus with night driving is that when the kids are sleeping, they don’t have to stop to go to the bathroom every 2 hrs.

I would make sure I got plenty of sleep before the drive started. I also used audio books to keep me away through the trip. Audio Books actually make the driving enjoyable for me (boy was I surprised to learn this!!!).

One of my biggest fears when traveling at night is surprisingly deers!


Kris May 17, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Money Reasons – We just drove through the night this past February to Florida and I much preferred that over driving all day and into the night. I drove the shift from 1-4 am through the mountains in Tennessee and I was completely terrified of deer. I just kept thinking about how awful it would be if one popped out and hit the car, so I too share your fears….!

My kids also liked driving through the night. The boys slept with no problems at all, and they liked that we were in Georgia by the time they woke up. Our trip from Michigan to Florida just seemed like a 10 hour drive to them.

Thanks for the comment!


Squirrelers May 23, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Ah, traveling with kids. Its not always easy – actually, it can be hard – to travel with kids. That said, some of the best memories you can have are of family vacations, where everyone had some kind of small inconveniences. While possibly annoying at the time, these experiences can bring families closer and cement bonds that last a lifetime. Some of my best memories of childhood are such trips.

I like your tips, by the way. I agree with packing food, especially for longer road trips. It just isn’t healthy for kids to be eating out all the time. Healthy food that’s packed will likely also be cheaper if brought from home. Healthier + Cheaper = better decision, though not most fun all the time:)

Also – good call on packing gum or suckers for air travel, specifically take-off/landing as you said. Kids ears are very sensitive. I know adults that have ruptured their eardrums on flights, I can only imagine how uncomfortable it could be for a little kid!


BBG Mexico June 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm

That was exactly what I was looking for. You have done a wonderful job communicating your message. Keep up the great job.


Zara Robertson August 1, 2010 at 11:41 pm

travel tips are important specially if you are going in places that are troublesome like in Africa or Asia`,”


Michael Miller September 29, 2010 at 1:58 am

traveladvisor is a great website that offers free travel tips:.-


Proud Mommy March 4, 2011 at 12:14 am

We have come up with some fun games and distractions that really seem to help the kids but a recent discovery has really made a big difference when the trip is up in the air or in the car. My son loves science and my daughter history; both are intelligent little cuties that have so much eagerness to learn that I think we were really blessed. I think the one thing that can cause an ornery fit is boredom then again, their Mom isn’t much different and needs a lit of stimulation as well. Once they learn how to better control and channel that energy, they will be just as superb at it! I travel a little more than Iâ??d like for business through Dish Network so we use my flier miles to have family time out learning as we all so enjoy. During a trip late last year I had a pretty good idea that I thought would reward the kids and also provide a distraction for them for when we travel. My husband and I talked about it and decided to get a Sling Adapter through Dish and two iPads, one for each of the kids. Some might say we were a little lavish in our gift giving but the iPad can be used for so much growth that would be helpful to them. With a quick free download of the Dish Remote Access application to both iPads, they had access to all the kid and learning channels available and were thrilled to have some entertainment for the long journeys. This has been so helpful to us in that they are not so unhappy when they get bored and know for the most part, when to take out their toys and when to pay attention. Life goes by so fast that I donâ??t want them to miss out on a thing, traveling with them is worth whatever goes with it.


Mccoach D March 31, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I must say I feel bad for ladies who have to suffer some of those unpleasant diets or intense workouts to get a flat, attractive bellies. It is great for guys that when we need muscles we’re going to shed all of our body fat automatically, as an upkeep cost of your muscles. All I want to say is I’m thankful I’m a guy.


Elisa Jed August 14, 2013 at 11:25 am

Always make sure your phone is completely charged before the trip too. I like what you said about the snacks. We recently got some bpa free water bottles in Seattle, and the kids really like them. A twist cap is good for a car.


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